Rajya Sabha polls 2024: How BJP gained tactical advantage through cross-voting in UP

Politicians, especially from the ruling BJP, are experts in using the art of Constitutional mechanisms.
Rajya Sabha polls 2024: How BJP gained tactical advantage through cross-voting in UP

Hyderabad: Politicians, especially from the ruling BJP, are experts in using the art of Constitutional mechanisms. This has revealed itself recently in Uttar Pradesh as far as Rajya Sabha election results are concerned. 

Out of the 10 Rajya Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won eight. The Samajwadi Party (SP) fielded candidates for three seats and has silently suffered the loss of one while confining to two Rajya Sabha berths, hinting at cross-voting in favour of the BJP. According to sources, at least seven MLAs cross-voted for BJP.

The clever moves of UP leaders won an additional eighth seat for the BJP out of the total 10. We should not call it purchasing votes, it is just cross-voting, which reached its peak before voting day when eight SP MLAs skipped a crucial meeting of SP leaders.

Elections will be held to elect 15 Rajya Sabha candidates in three states – Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh – on February 27. There are reports of the possibility of cross-voting, especially in Uttar Pradesh, and hence, the parties are keeping a keen watch on its MLAs.

How RS voting went down in UP

In the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, the BJP has 252 MLAs. Their friendly Apna Dal (Sonelal) has 13 MLAs, and the Nishad Party and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party have six each. Another friend Rashtriya Lok Dal has nine MLAs. The Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik), with two MLAs, also supported the ruling party.

The BJP was short of eight votes of a majority. With 37 votes required for each seat, the BJP needed a total of 296 votes. Uma Shankar Singh, the lone Bahujan Samaj Party MLA, had also voted in favour of the BJP candidates. 

What the UP media says about RS polls

According to BJP sources, as quoted by the local media, the initial plan was to field seven candidates. 

“But when our senior functionaries had a conversation with a senior SP MLA, one among those who cross-voted, an opportunity seemed to emerge to split the SP’s votes. They do not disclose the name of the expert leader,” said a source as per UP media. 

“So, an eighth candidate was fielded. The BJP leader claimed at least three SP MLAs had assured a week before the polls that they would cross-vote,” the source added. 

Quoting news sources, the BJP claimed a Union minister, one state minister and two party functionaries (one from the state organisation and another a national functionary) played a key role in the move. 

How BJP and SP fared in numbers

Of the eight SP MLAs who revolted and skipped SP chief Akhilesh Yadav’s meeting, three are from the Congress strongholds of Raebareli and Amethi—the Lok Sabha seats that the BJP aims to win in 2024. 

In the 2019 elections, the BJP had won Amethi but lost Raebareli.

Both the BJP and the SP have numbers to send seven and three members, respectively, unopposed to the Rajya Sabha. But, BJP, by fielding Sanjay Seth as its eighth candidate, has forced a competitive face-off on one seat.

A candidate needs nearly 37 first preference votes to get elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. The election is seen as the first electoral test for the INDIA bloc, as the Samajwadi Party and the Congress had sealed a seat-sharing deal in Uttar Pradesh days ahead of the February 27 polls. 

How BJP trumped by its number game

Here’s a brief set of events that are said to have helped BJP the number game:

- Manoj Pandey, who did not attend Akhilesh’s meeting and resigned as SP chief whip in the UP State Assembly, belongs to Raebareli.

- The SP claimed Manoj Pandey had played a critical role in the rebellion, and had been in touch with a Central minister and a senior BJP functionary in Delhi.

- The Uttar Pradesh minister involved in the operation started meeting SP MLAs (other than Pandey and Puja Pal) well before the Rajya Sabha polls and has had years of cordial relations with those who cross-voted.

- All rebels met at the minister’s house in Lucknow a few days before the poll. This minister was trying to prove his worth to the high command, according to the sources.

- The result is to shock Akhilesh. That party’s shock loss of the third Rajya Sabha seat had hinted that the rebel MLAs could have been lured or pressured by the BJP.

- The MLAs claimed a few of them may get Lok Sabha election tickets and others may be accommodated in the next reshuffle of the Uttar Pradesh cabinet.

How parties brace through cross-voting 

In Karnataka too, there is speculation about cross-voting.In Karnataka, the ruling Congress shifted all its MLAs to a hotel ahead of the biennial election to fill four vacancies. 

Five candidates – Ajay Maken, Syed Naseer Hussain, and GC Chandrasekhar (all Congress), Narayana Bandage (BJP) and Kupendra Reddy (JD(S)) – are in the fray. The parties have issued whips to the MLAs, the voters. 

In Himachal Pradesh, the ruling party, Congress, has issued a whip to all its MLAs to vote for party candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. The BJP has alleged that the move is to pressurise the MLAs and that the MLAs have the right to vote as per their wish. The Congress has a clear majority in Himachal Pradesh Rajya Sabha polls with 40 out of 68 MLAs and the support of three independent MLAs.

Constitutional issues        

The Constitution of Bharath knows it has a formula prescribed. But the Bharatiya Janata Party has its own formula. Rajya Sabha MPs are elected by MLAs through the proportional representation process with the single transferable vote (STV) system. Each MLA’s vote is counted only once.

The MLAs don’t vote for each seat. Instead, the MLAs have to list different candidates in order of their preference. If the MLAs qualified to vote choose a particular candidate as their first choice, he or she gets elected. The remaining votes go to the next candidates but with a lesser value. So, MLAs also vote for candidates from other parties.

Winning formula in RS

The candidate who emerges number one secures a first preference vote. So, a candidate needs a specific number of such first-preference votes. This number depends on the strength of each State Assembly and the number of MPs it sends to Rajya Sabha.

Thus, to win, a candidate should get a required number of votes, known as quota or preference vote. 

The formula is = [Total number of votes/(Number of Rajya Sabha seats + 1)] + 1.

The formula is different in case more than one seat needs to be filled. 

In that case, the total number of votes required for a candidate is = [(Number of votes x 100) / (Vacancies + 1)] + 1.

Cross-voting and the Constitution

As per Article 80, representatives of each State to the Rajya Sabha are elected indirectly by the elected members of their Legislative Assembly. The polls for Rajya Sabha will be required only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.

The Upper House consists of experienced experts under the leadership of parties of different states. It is not just the game of BJP alone. They witnessed cross-voting by MLAs belonging to different parties. It is Constitutional but what about moralities or Constitutional electoral moralities? 

Some more experts have worked overtime during 1998. The outcome of the Rajya Sabha elections now was not usual or a foregone conclusion. The candidates nominated by various parties, according to their strength in the Assembly, used to be elected unopposed. 

What happened in June 1998? During the Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra, a Congress party candidate was shocked, after witnessing cross-voting.  

How open is an open ballot?

Generally, democratic lovers support an open ballot in the Representation of the People Act, of 1951. Then happens the amendment – by another team of experts of the Constitutional mechanism. So, to rein in the MLAs from such cross-voting, an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, was carried out in 2003. 

Section 59 of the Act was amended to provide that the voting in elections to the Rajya Sabha shall be through an open ballot. The MLAs of political parties are required to show their ballot paper to the authorised agent of their party. Not showing the ballot paper to the authorised agent or showing it to anyone else will disqualify the vote. What a constitutional understanding, the independent MLAs are barred from showing their ballots to anyone.

However, many believe that the Congress has merely deferred its problems. If there is no stay on the disqualification by a court, under Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Election Commission is duty-bound to conduct by-polls to Assembly constituencies of Dharamshala, Lahul-Spiti, Sujanpur, Barsar, Kutlehar and Gagret within six months. 

“With the disqualification in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress government has put itself in an uncomfortable zone. Whenever the Assembly by-polls are held, which could be along with the Lok Sabha polls as well, the Congress would have to put its best foot forward to win the seats again, which could become a difficult task amid the ongoing display of factionalism,” said a party leader, who requested anonymity.

Political crises from cross-voting

Forty-one candidates in the 56 seats falling vacant were elected unopposed to the Upper House. BJP’s JP Nadda, Union Education minister, Dharmendra Pradesh, Union IT minister Ashwani Vaishnaw, and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were among the 41 candidates who have been elected unopposed to the Upper House.

The cross-voting six Congress MLAs were disqualified in Himachal Pradesh.

The crisis was created and these Constitutional issues are totally political i.e., manipulative. It could be against democracy or ethics. The ‘elders’ are called by MPs of the Rajya Sabha. This time Congress MLAs are alleged to be cross-voted on behalf of BJP in current elections. Six Congress legislators had cross-voted in favour of the BJP.

News agencies like ANI explain that the political crisis is used or generated. Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, Congress state president Pratibha Singh, and Karnataka deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar in Shimla. Disqualification on the grounds of absence from the Assembly when the State Budget was put to vote

Naturally, every disqualified MLA will go to the Supreme Court, to deal with Constitutional crimes, though they are not really called criminal. They are only illegal or unconstitutional, that means without any consequence until the Supreme Court decides if they get time. If not, the decision might happen before Congress MLAs hope to win before the next elections. Hence disqualified MLAs move to SC. It is quite natural that the government will complete its term. 

The ground for disqualification, was their absence from the Assembly when the State Budget and the Finance Bill were being put to vote, defying a party whip to vote in favour of the government. One cannot blame because political leaders are abetted for disqualification. The disqualified MLAs were: Rajinder Rana, Sudhir Sharma, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Devinder Kumar Bhutoo, Ravi Thakur, and Chetanya Sharma. 

By evening, the information about their seats lying vacant was put up on the Assembly’s website. Rana, a three-term MLA, said they would move the Supreme Court against the disqualification as many of his colleagues did not even get a proper notice from the speaker’s office. 

Abhishek Singhvi’s defeat 

The Congress Committee observers including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Bhupesh Baghel, and DK Shivakumar disclosed to the media in Shimla that chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had taken responsibility for Abhishek Singhvi’s defeat in the Rajya Sabha elections.  

“The Congress government is there and Sukhu is the chief minister. All the MLAs want the Congress government for five years,” Shivakumar said when asked if the party would replace the chief minister after the Rajya Sabha fiasco.

Dr M Sridhar Acharyulu is First Dean, Professor & Advisor, School of Law at Mahindra University, Hyderabad.

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